The Atlanta Falcons, on paper, look set at running back, with Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith and Brian Hill all under contract and set to return this fall.
But a new name has surfaced who could add to that group.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure has linked the team as a “longshot” option for Cleveland running back Duke Johnson.
This might be a longshot but an intriguing option to replace Tevin Coleman, who is expected to leave in free agency, might be Duke Johnson from the Browns. Johnson could be the odd guy out with Kareem Hunt joining Georgia’s Nick Chubb in Cleveland. But Johnson’s status no doubt depends on what type of suspension Hunt receives from the league. Johnson has three years and $11.6 million left on his contract so it would have to be a trade scenario. Johnson and Devonta Freeman both are former Liberty City Warriors out of Miami under Luther ‘Uncle Luke’’ Campbell.
Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, the definitive source of information on the Browns, reported that Johnson is indeed a potential trade target for teams.
At least three NFL teams are currently believed to be interested in trading for Johnson, but more will likely surface if they believe the Browns are serious about it.
Johnson would likely cost about a fourth or fifth, and hoists a rather-affordable contract for what would likely be a second-string placement in Atlanta’s lineup. He’s much more prolific as a pass-catching option than a downhill runner, and could definitely fill departing running back Tevin Coleman’s snaps in that role.
If Atlanta made this move, it’d signal that Dirk Koetter wants what he usually likes, a running back attack by committee, and that maybe the team isn’t quite as ready for Smith to spell Freeman permanently. Maybe they’d want to rely on Freeman and Smith mainly between the tackles, and use Coleman as a third running back in those scenarios and as a luxury pass-catcher?
Maybe they just want a surplus of running backs around and are willing to pay premium for that. What would this mean for Hill, who flashed at the end of last season?
It’s a fascinating possibility for Atlanta, but then again, if other teams are interested, that probably means Atlanta wouldn’t be willing to get into a bidding war.
If Atlanta does land Johnson, they’d add another strength to the pass-happy Koetter system. A quartet of running backs with Freeman, Smith, Johnson and Hill would be staggering, and it’s cool to think about in theory.
It just depends on what the cost is for a trade, and if Atlanta really needs to take on any additional money at running back when the trenches are in more need. We’ll see how this progresses.